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Budde v. Kane County Forest Preserve

March 19, 2009

CHARLES H. BUDDE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KANE COUNTY FOREST PRESERVE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On the evening of March 11, 2005, Plaintiff Charles Budde drank several glasses of wine before getting into his car to drive home. Budde rear-ended another car, damaging his own vehicle and sending the passengers of the other car to the hospital. At the time, Budde was the Chief of Police for Defendant, the Kane County Forest Preserve. Although he was off-duty at the time of the accident, Budde was nevertheless placed on administrative leave and ultimately fired by Defendant on June 7, 2005. After the drunk driving incident, Budde sought and received treatment for alcoholism. Plaintiff then filed this suit, claiming that Defendant violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., by discriminating against him on the basis of a disability, alcoholism, and by refusing to provide him with a reasonable accommodation. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's termination was the result of both his failure to abide by department policy and his inability to perform his job after his license was revoked. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Budde was hired by the Forest Preserve to serve as Chief of Police in June 1991. (Budde Dep. at 9:19-10:7, Ex. B to Def.'s 56.1.) In his capacity as Chief, Budde authored General Order 92-09, which sets forth the job description of the Police Chief. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3.) Near the top of the document is the heading "Essential Job Functions," and listed immediately underneath that heading is: "1. Operate an automobile." (Id.) In 1994, Budde himself implemented the District's Manual of Standard Operating Procedures ("SOPs"). (Id. ¶ 4.) The SOPs state that "The following are applicable and prohibited to all employees and members of the Department and may be made subject of disciplinary action: . . . Violation or attempted violation of any Federal, State, County, or Municipal law." (SOP at 1.5.2, Ex. 18 to Budde Dep., Ex. B to Def.'s 56.1.) Additionally, "Being intoxicated in public while off duty is prohibited." (Id.)

On Friday, March 11, 2005, Budde drank four or five glasses of wine at the Moose Lodge. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 5.) Upon leaving, Budde drove his own car and rear-ended another car, seriously enough to send both the driver and passenger of that car to the hospital.*fn1 (Id. ¶¶ 5, 7.) Budde was found to have a blood alcohol level of .23, nearly three times the legal limit in Illinois of .08. (Id.)

The next day, Budde called Monica Meyers, the Executive Director of the District and Budde's immediate supervisor, to inform her about the incident and to let her know that he was not seriously hurt and would be at work on Monday. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 8.) The next week, on March 15, Budde explained the circumstances of the accident to Meyers in more detail and informed her that he might be charged with driving under the influence (a "DUI"). (Id. ¶ 9.) Meyers advised him to consider attending the Employee Assistance Program ("EAP"). (Meyers Dep. at 138:11-16., Ex. C to Def.'s 56.1.) According to Meyers, she did not refer him to this program because of any concerns about a drinking problem-she claims that Budde told her he did not have a problem with his drinking-but rather concerns about stress. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 11.) Budde claims that he told Meyers at this meeting that he had an alcohol problem and needed to talk to someone, and that she only recommended the EAP in response to that.*fn2 (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 23.) Later that week, as media scrutiny into the drunk driving incident heightened, Meyers consulted with the President of the District's Board of Commissioners, John Hoscheit. (Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 2; Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 12, 13.) The two agreed that Budde would be placed on paid administrative leave. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 13.) While on administrative leave, Budde maintains that he contacted Tracey Smith, the Human Resources Manager for the District, to inform her of his status with EAP counseling and alcohol rehabilitation. (Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 2, 14.) Defendant denies this. (Def.'s Resp.¶ 25.)

By his own admission, Budde is an alcoholic. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 9.) For forty-three years, until he made the conscious decision to get sober on June 1, 2005, Budde drank virtually every evening when he returned home from work until he passed out in a chair in front of the television. (Id. ¶ 12.) Budde also would drink himself to sleep on the weekends, and suffered frequent blackouts-at least one per week. (Id.) His dependence on alcohol caused numerous problems: he had difficulty sleeping, was unable to help care for his children, argued frequently with his wife and children, suffered from serious memory lapses, and saw his sexual relationship with his wife comprised. (Id. ¶ 14.) Ultimately, he and his wife divorced, but his drinking continued. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) Budde claims that he was unable to care for himself, had difficulty concentrating, and saw his relationships with others seriously affected by his drinking.*fn3 (Id. ¶¶ 16-19.) According to Budde, he received treatment at the Renz Addiction Center beginning in March 2005 and continuing periodically through August. (Budde Aff. ¶¶ 21-25, Ex. B to Pl.'s 56.1.) In addition, on May 31, 2005, Budde enrolled in Central DuPage Hospital's Behavioral Services alcohol rehabilitation partial day program through June 21, 2005, when he was discharged and told that his alcohol dependence was in remission. (Id. ¶ 27.) Budde claims that he told Smith about his enrollment both with Renz and with the Central DuPage Hospital program. Defendant denies this. (Def.'s Resp. ¶ 25.)

On June 7, 2005, Meyers sent Budde a letter informing him that he was being terminated. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 15.) The letter stated:

The decision to terminate your employment was based on a number of factors all of which independently would justify termination. Those factors include a pattern of errors in judgment on your part, your inability to perform your duties as Director of Public Safety due to the suspension of your driving privileges, and engaging in conduct that is below the standard expected for this position. (Ex. 6 to Budde Aff., Ex. B to Pl.'s 56.1.) Plaintiff had not yet been convicted of the DUI at the time he was terminated, but he does not dispute that his license had already been revoked. (Id. ¶ 17.)

According to Plaintiff, Defendant knew of his problems with alcohol well prior to the March 2005 accident. In May 2004, the District commenced an Administrative Inquiry into allegations made by Sergeant Rick Hayes that Budde was drinking on the job and having "liquid lunches." (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 29.) Budde denied the allegation, and Hayes later recanted. (Def.'s Resp. ¶ 28.) In February 2005, just before Budde's March accident, Meyers spoke to Budde about Budde's practice of driving to the Moose Lodge after work and parking his police vehicle there. (Id.) Budde informed her that the Lodge had a restaurant where he ate several nights a week. (Id.) Meyers nevertheless cautioned Budde against parking his police vehicle at the Lodge. (Id.)

Plaintiff also maintains that he was denied reasonable accommodations by Defendant. Prior to his termination, on May 20, 2005, Brick Van Der Snick, acting as Budde's attorney, approached someone at the Forest Preserve and suggested that he could drive Budde to work while his license was suspended and that Budde could ride with another officer in the event he needed to drive around during the day. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 28.) According to Van Der Snick, Defendant did not respond to this suggestion. (Id.) Three days after his termination, Budde sent a letter to the Forest Preserve requesting an accommodation for a "perceived disability to wit: alcoholism." (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 16.) Again, nothing came of this request.

After his termination, Plaintiff initiated a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), which issued Plaintiff a "right to sue" letter on November 29, 2005. (Compl. ¶ 3.) In this action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated the ADA by discriminating against him for his disability, alcoholism, when they fired him; by failing to accommodate his condition; and by retaliating against him by firing him after he requested a reasonable accommodation. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all counts.

DISCUSSION

A party is entitled to summary judgment when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED R. CIV. P. 56(c). To establish a genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party must "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Hottenroth v. Vill. of Slinger, 388 F.3d 1015, 1036 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). In determining whether ...


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